Virtual Worlds 101 – part 1. Definitions.

Runescape screenshot
MMORG Runescape

Welcome friends and colleagues.  Fantastic to have you join me!

Having spent this past year immersing myself in the world of virtual worlds, I thought I’d share some of my learnings, fascination, and excitement about “virtual worlds.”   My intention is to explain this stuff as I have been doing all year to my non-techie friends and family – in layman’s terms and spread over several posts. 

In this first post, I’ll start with broad definitions – the “what are they?” descriptions.  In subsequent posts, I’ll talk about

  • the technical issues (from a humble marketer’s POV) that’s influencing the mass-adoption of virtual worlds
  • new technologies that can/may help drive mass-adoption
  • I have a huge and ever-growing list of virtual worlds for kids
  • references for super cutting-edge virtual technologies
  • virtual world resources

This is definitely a work-in-progress document so feel free to chime in anytime.  And keep checking back as I’ll add the links to the facts and other references mentioned as I find the time.


My personal fascination with virtual worlds started very skeptically with Runescape, a medieval-themed MMORPG (that’s a Massive, Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) that my son was so interested in playing.  After the usual parental list of don’ts, don’t you dare, and heck-no’s, I paid and let him play.  Fortunately for me, the fascination didn’t last long for him but it did for me. 

Shortly thereafter, my daughter was introduced to Club Penguin and I was hooked!  My kids were too of course, but as a parent, I thought Club Penguin absolutely brilliant.  There were so many parent-friendly, kid-friendly features in this thing, I was amazed.  Deservedly so, Club Penguin took off and was good, clean fun, eventually being acquired by Disney (the KOD, imho – more about that in another post).

Definitions. defines virtual worlds as a

Main Entry:   virtual environment
Part of Speech:   n
Definition:   a computer-generated, three-dimensional representation of a setting in which the user of the technology perceives themselves to be and within which interaction takes place; also called virtual landscape, virtual space, virtual world

This definition doesn’t quite cover it for me.  The “perceives themselves to be…” seems to me to more aptly apply to an immersive virtual environment (see below).  So while still a noun, my definition of a virtual environment is a bit looser:

a computer-generated, three-dimensional-like representation of a place.  The place itself – what it looks like, where it is, and what you do there – is up to the creators. Virtual representations of yourself in these worlds are called Avatars.

After attending FountainBlue’s Virtual World panel early in the year, I was surprised at how broad the virtual world space actually is.   After trying to explain what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been learning to people, I’ve found that the easiest way to describe virtual worlds is by their most common applications:

  • Consumer entertainment sites for kids/teens and adults.  Generally organized around games and social networking. 
    • Examples of this are Second Life, World of Warcraft, Club Penguin, Sony PlayStation Home,,
    • The number and pace of virtual world launches for kids is absolutely dizzying.  I’ll publish my what-has-to-be-only-a-partial list in another post.
  • Virtual goods.
    • A growing, billion dollar industry in its own right comes from the sale of virtual goods.  I view this really as a subset of consumer entertainment but it’s poised to make more money than most existing consumer-oriented virtual worlds, if not already.  The bulk of Second Life’s revenues are from the sales of virtual goods and SL predicts that transaction figure to be in the ballpark of $450 million for 2009.
    • Companies include Virtual, Xstreet SL (Second Life)
  • Enterprise-level programs.  Places for distributed workforces or people to meet, congregate, share, and/or collaborate.
    • This would be things like internal meetings with people and their Avatars from all over the globe in real time.  Forterra’s OLIVE, Second Life Enterprise, Sun’s Wonderland.
    • Business conferences.  InXpo, ON24, Unisfair.
  • Trainings.
    • Role playing and education. 
    • Big when combined with the  augmented reality or immersive experience (below).
  • Virtualization for education and research.
    • NASA’s virtualization of the moon.  Virtualization of how things work.  Not necessarily or always a virtual environment for Avatars to roam around in but a big and important part of the virtual world special interest group (or SIG).
  • The flip of virtual worlds are augmented, immersive experiences – bringing virtual data to the real world in real time.  [Update:  This is different than 3D immersive experiences which I’ll talk about in my next post about virtual world platforms.] 
    • Wearing augmented reality headsets to physically experience the virtual environment.  Space trainings, military trainings.  Simulators.
    • Nokia is working on overlaying real time geolocations with virtual data through web-enabled cameras or camera phones to enhance your immediate experiences.  Send a photo of where you are and get all sorts of information about your immediate surrounding area:  historical or architectural references to the best place for sushi.

These are broad applications and this is where the bulk of the work – either research, start-ups, or revenue-generating companies – is happening.

Comments, corrections, suggestions, thoughts? 

9 thoughts on “Virtual Worlds 101 – part 1. Definitions.”

  1. Informative post. Enjoyed the fact you didn’t use “buzzwords” without explaining them. I liked your divides of the types of words, even though I might nitpick a couple of them.

    You might want to look at V.E.R.N (Virtual Economy Research Network) to see some info on other RMT(real money trade) ecoomies besides Second LIfe.

    Great work.

    1. Thank you for your really nice feedback, Jay. My goal is to enlighten my non-techie friends and by doing so, hopefully broaden awareness for virtual worlds.
      Keep checking back for further posts or feel free to subscribe by email. I’ll definitely check into V.E.R.N.
      Take care.
      – Nina

  2. Pingback: Trackback
  3. All great ideas but I would also add another item to it: consider doing a virtual event/meeting. Virtual events and meetings are a great way to stay in front of customers, generate new leads and help close business already in the pipeline. These solutions are being deployed so rapidly by companies that the market is projected to exceed $18 billion by 2015. If you are interested in how you can use virtual environments attend the Virtual Edge Summit Feb. 22-23 (virtually or in-person if you are in/near Silicon Valley). There is no registration fee if you take a short survey.

    Virtual Edge Summit 2010 is the only event that focuses exclusively on providing education, training and solutions for planning and producing virtual events, meetings and communities. Over 2 days, 80 experts will share their experience with you, and be available for one-on-ones. The event also offers a rich program for featuring experts from Cisco, Stanford, IBM, Disney SAP, Oracle, Intel as well as top virtual technology and service providers like InXpo, ON24, 6Connex, Stream57, CGS VirtualEvents365, George P. Johnson, Unisfair and Digitell.

    When: February 22-23, 2010 8am until 6pm

    Where: At the Santa Clara Convention Center in California and virtually in browser based virtual environments offering 2D and 3D experiences.

    Register at

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